Ottawa mayor, local businesses welcome expected return of federal workers to offices
By Nojoud Al Mallees
A coffee shop in Ottawa’s downtown core is looking forward to some more frequent foot traffic once federal workers head back to the office on a more regular basis.
“I’m just personally excited to see more people around and kind of feel like we’re back into before times,” said Kyle Macleod, a manager at Manhattan’s Coffee Co.
The Treasury Board’s decision to stick with hybrid work means public servants will be back to in-person work two to three days a week starting early next year, to be fully implemented by the end of March. Departments were able to make their own arrangements for a hybrid workplace model during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the Treasury Board will now apply a consistent approach.
The reaction from public servants has been mixed, with unions raising concerns about communication and logistics.
Chris Aylward, the national president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, said there had been “absolutely zero consultation” on the decision.
Treasury Board President Mona Fortier said that the government communicated the decision to unions and that employers have the right to decide the location of work.
The return-to-office news is being greeted by the city and business community as a boon for commerce and public transit ridership.
Macleod said it’s been hard to gauge when the shop should expect customers, given the irregularity of workers heading to the office, and the new plan is important to keep the downtown core thriving.
“I don’t think people kind of realize that if you’re not being downtown, if you’re not walking around, there won’t be any need for that anymore,” he said.
“And then downtown will become a ghost town.”
In a news release on Thursday, Ottawa Mayor Mark Sutcliffe said getting clarity from the federal government on the future of its workforce is “critical” for the local economy.
Kevin McHale, the executive director of the Sparks Street Business Improvement Area, said business owners are “cautiously optimistic.”
“There’s just been a real air of uncertainty through the downtown,” McHale said in an interview.
He said foot traffic is “everything” for Sparks Street, which is a pedestrian-only street in the downtown core.
However, he said many are eager to find out what the federal government plans to do with its office spaces and whether it plans to downsize.
“The next question is, what’s the occupancy going to look like in buildings in the downtown core?” he said.
“The more information we have, the easier and better it is for our members.”
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